This week, Picks and Ponderings goes back to Turfway — albeit only virtually, this time. Turfway’s card on Saturday features a pair of three-year-old points races, the $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) (previously the Spiral Stakes) for open company and the $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks (G3) for fillies. Both races offer 20-8-4-2 points to its top four finishers, good for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks respectively. As recently as last year, the races had been 50-point preps, though their points were lowered in light of the fact that the Polytrack has not in recent years tended to attract horses who made a major splash come the first weekend in May. Still, that didn’t hurt field size one bit: both races drew large, competitive fields.
We also turn our eyes to Hot Springs, where a loaded field of three-year-old competes for Derby points in the Rebel Stakes (G2).
Turfway Park: Saturday, March 13
Race 9: DRF Bets Bourbonette Oaks (G3), three-year-old fillies, one mile on the Polytrack, post time 5:14pm EDT
The Bourbonette has been part of the racing schedule at Turfway Park (née Latonia Race Track) since 1983, and has carried a Grade 3 designation since 2006. The race has always been contested at a flat mile, though it was run on dirt through 2005. This year’s edition will be its thirteenth since Turfway installed Polytrack.
Over its history, only one runner who has hit the board in the Bourbonette Oaks has gone on to claim the lilies: Lemons Forever, third in 2006, returned next out to win the Kentucky Oaks at 47/1 odds. Since then, she has become a star in the breeding shed as well, producing Champion Forever Unbridled, Grade 1 winner Unbridled Forever, and stakes-placed Forever d’Oro.
Top Notch Lady wins a close one in the 2006 Bourbonette Oaks — but third-place Lemons Forever will win the Kentucky Oaks next out, as the 47/1 longest shot on the board.
Two runners who have run well in the Bourbonette Oaks have gone on to make a mark locally. Aurelia’s Belle, who won in 2014, proved her Polytrack prowess once again at Arlington Park later that year by winning Arlington Oaks (G3). Ioya, third in the 1990 Bourbonette for trainer Chris Block (who brings BET SHE WINS this year), made a bigger mark in the breeding shed by producing Ioya Two, an Illinois-bred mare by Lord at War. Ioya Two won the 2001 Modesty Handicap (G3) at Arlington, and has produced four stakes-winning Illinois-breds to date: Amazing Results, I O Ireland, Ioya Bigtime, and Mavericking.
The far outside is not a good place to be going a mile at Turfway — making this race interesting, since the classy pair of GO NONI GO and BET SHE WINS are marooned in the 12 and 11 holes, respectively. Between those two, the outside post ought to hurt BET SHE WINS a bit less; her off-pace style should give Albin Jimenez a chance to drop her off the pace and inside, saving at least some ground, whereas GO NONI GO will likely have to send forth and get hung wide as she goes to dispute the pace with the likes of better-drawn speedsters like MAUK’S TUFF and perhaps IN THE MOOD. Given the post, this space will stand completely against GO NONI GO. BET SHE WINS, between her slightly better running style for the post and the brilliance of her only synthetic track start, will be a defensive use. It’s hard to take her on top at the likely price, but if her two and a half months of works over the demanding Tampa surface have her fit enough to bring anything like her Arlington Polytrack form to Turfway, she will be the one they have to fend off at the end.
So, who to go with? This space very much likes the winner of the Cincinnati Trophy, the local prep: IN THE MOOD. She struggled on the major circuits, but has found her mojo at Turfway this winter, with a N1X win there in December, then a late-running score in the Cincinnati Trophy last month. Both of those came with John McKee in the irons; McKee returns here. She doesn’t need to rally from near the back of the field; she has shown the tactical versatility to track a bit closer, a positive since this race may have an honest pace but will not fall apart. Though IN THE MOOD stretches from a sprint to a mile for the first time, everything about her breeding screams distance: she is by Eskendereya out of the Kitten’s Joy mare Sisterhood, who finished second in the Arlington Matron (G3) going nine furlongs on polytrack.
CONSOLIDA makes her second American start. Her United States debut was a good one: last month, she rolled from off the pace to score in the California Oaks at Golden Gate. The question is whether she can take her form to a different kind of synthetic track, as both her California Oaks win and her maiden victory at Newcastle came over Tapeta. Even with the surface question, though, she has upside: second off the transatlantic ship for Patrick Gallagher (a trainer 29% second off a lay), with a relatively inside post and some pace to chase, CONSOLIDA ought to be a factor here.
#5 IN THE MOOD (8/1)
#2 CONSOLIDA (5/1)
#11 BET SHE WINS (3/1)
Longshot: Trainer Mike Maker has a pair in here. One, outside-drawn GO NONI GO, is a stand-against. If you’re going to play a Maker, play the Maker B: #3 QUEEN’S FATE (8/1). QUEEN’S FATE does try Turfway for the first time, so Polytrack is a question. But, her one synthetic-track outing was the best race of her career: in December’s Ontario Lassie, she battled graded stakes calibre Dixie Moon down the lane, losing by just a nose. Jockey Rafael Hernandez returns from that outing. Though QUEEN’S FATE found the Sweetest Chant (G3) a bit over her head, she was facing some of the top runners in the juvenile filly turf division in that start — and there’s no Thewayiam or Andina Del Sur here. This has her second off the lay, back on a synthetic, and in a reasonable class place. QUEEN’S FATE has upside.
Race 10: Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the Polytrack, post time 6:00pm EDT
This race, traditionally known as the Spiral Stakes has been run at Turfway Park since 1972. This year, in Turfway’s grand tradition of interesting sponsorships (remember the 2015 Pure Romance Bourbonette Oaks?), it becomes the Jeff Ruby Steaks. The race was originally run at a mile on dirt, but stretched to a mile and a sixteenth in 1982 and then to its current distance in 1988. It has been run on Polytrack since 2006. The race first earned a Grade 3 rating in 1984, earned a Grade 2 starting in 1998, and has been back at its current level since 2011.
Through its history, two of its winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Lil E. Tee (1992) and Animal Kingdom (2011). Three of its other winners in the early 1990s also went on to win other Triple Crown races: Summer Squall (1990, Preakness), Hansel (1991, Preakness and Belmont), and Prairie Bayou (1993, Preakness). Hall of Fame inductee Serena’s Song (1995) did not parlay her Spiral Stakes victory into a Derby win, but she did beat males again later that year in the Haskell (G1). Like the Bourbonette Oaks, the race’s winners’ list also includes a runner with local connections. Western Playboy (1989) was bred in Illinois, and remains the most recent Illinois-bred horse to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
The Jeff Ruby drew no shortage of speed: MUGARITZ and HAZIT will go, and DREAMER’S POINT, ZANESVILLE, and perhaps even MAGICALMEISTER may also do what they can to keep the pace hot. A good closer should have a good time here, and if you can find one at a price, even better. Thus, this space looks to SKY PROMISE here. He finished second behind MAGICALMEISTER in the Battaglia, the local prep, closing like a freight train. That day he drew the rail, saved all the ground, and rallied. Here he draws the rail again, gets Jack Gilligan in the saddle again, and the same kind of trip should get an even better setup. That was SKY PROMISE’s first outing off a freshening; it proved he could handle Turfway, and showed he was in good form. A reasonable improvement from that last effort stands to win this, and the price will be right.
You have to respect when Doug O’Neill puts the horse on the plane, and BLENDED CITIZEN is well spotted here. He is another who should be rallying nicely from off the pace — assuming the first-time blinkers get him into it earlier, and don’t cause some kind of Palace Malice incident. The surface is a question, as he has form over Tapeta but not Polytrack. However? The mile and an eighth distance not only fits his pedigree well (he is a Proud Citizen half to Lookin At Lee), but he proved in the El Camino Real (G3) last out that he could handle it. His late-rallying style should benefit for the same reasons that SKY PROMISE’s will. BLENDED CITIZEN did draw relatively outside, the 8 hole in a field of eleven, but if rider Kyle Frey can drop him off the pace and inside, he shouldn’t hurt too much from that draw.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sends a pair here. He conditions HAZIT, who should be part of the pace. And, he has another, more preferable one who will be rallying from off the pace: PONY UP. Synthetic is a big question, as he has only run on turf and dirt. But, Pletcher is choosy with his dirt-to-all-weather moves, a winner in 7 of his last 21 tries (for positive ROI, even!), suggesting he has a good handle on who to move to a spot like this. PONY UP does have some class; two back, he was beaten just a neck by the consistent, talented Flameaway. If he can muster on Polytrack the kind of late rally he found in his three turf starts in Florida, PONY UP will be in the picture late.
#1 SKY PROMISE (12/1)
#8 BLENDED CITIZEN (6/1)
#4 PONY UP (6/1)
Longshot: The morning line is rather odd for this race; six of the twelve horses are put at either 5/1 or 6/1. It’s hard to see #3 ARCHAGGELOS (6/1) going off anywhere near the chalk: he hasn’t raced since December, after all, and Woodbine and Laurel class doesn’t tend to carry the same cache to American bettors as places like south Florida or southern California. Demand double digits, but that’s a realistic price, and at that price he’s worth a look. Even though he hasn’t run since finishing fourth in the Display at Woodbine, trainer Michael Dickinson excels with layoff runners. He brings ARCHAGGELOS off a strong, consistent worktab — and even though most of those drills happened at Tapeta Farm (Dickinson’s own training facility, featuring Dickinson’s brainchild racing surface), his last breeze happened at Turfway. It’s a positive to see that ARCHAGGELOS has had some time to settle in Florence, and makes him look well-meant. The pace should also suit, as he rallied well from off the pace in both of his victories, and that kind of trip should win here. The nine-furlong distance is a bit of a question — but he has won twice going eight and a half, and being a Temple City half to Big Brown, he should handle nine and beyond with aplomb.
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